‘Forty children’ die amid northern Iraq fighting
Thousands continue to flee after the ISIS takeover of Sinjar north of Iraq, home to the Yazidi minority
Northern Iraq’s Yazidi minority has lost 40 children following a jihadist attack in the Sinjar region, the United Nations Children's Fund said Tuesday.
"According to official reports received by UNICEF, these children from the Yazidi minority died as a direct consequence of violence, displacement and dehydration over the past two days," a statement said.
On Sunday, fighters from the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria jihadist group, who already control large areas of northwestern Iraq, took over Sinjar, which had been under the control of Kurdish Peshmerga troops.
The town, which lies near the Syrian border, is a hub for Iraq's Yazidis, a secluded community that follows an ancient faith rooted in Zoroastrianism and referred to by jihadists as "devil worshippers".
Sinjar was also a temporary home for thousands of displaced people from other minorities, such as Shiite Turkmen who had fled the nearby city of Tal Afar when ISIS launched its offensive on June 9.
Almost 40,000 Yazidis have left their homes in the towns of Sinjar and Zumar to seek refuge in the neighboring semi-autonomus Kurdish region, Jawhar Ali Begg, a spokesman for the community said on Monday.
"Families who fled the area are in immediate need of urgent assistance, including up to 25,000 children who are now stranded in mountains surrounding Sinjar and are in dire need of humanitarian aid, including drinking water and sanitation services," UNICEF said.
Pictures posted on the Internet by members of the Yazidi community show little clusters of people gathering on the cave-dotted flanks of a craggy canyon in the Sinjar mountains.
Yazidi leaders and rights activists have said the very existence of the multi-millennial community on its ancestral land was at risk as a result of the latest violence and displacement.
These developments come after Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki ordered Monday air support for Kurdish Peshmerga troops who are planning a counter-offensive against ISIS in northern Iraq, the Associated Press reported.
A Kurdish official was quoted by AP saying the Kurds had been overstretched in the region but were now calling in a large number of fighters to hit back against the Sunni extremist group